Friday, September 28, 2012

Tai-chi re-engineering experts

Internal martial arts look very simple from the outside.  Nowadays everyone can search for different versions of tai-chi styles from the internet, and loads of books on the subject, with masters detailing what they have learned (or have heard..:)) from their masters, in particular in Mainland China where teachers competing for the growing number of students in the prospering economy.  There are too many, instead of too little materials for learning and masters ready to teach at a reasonable price, it is only for the intelligent students to take whatever they might want.  No so in the old days, the time when Yang-style grandmaster Yang LuChan (楊露禪) learned his art.

In the old days, tai-chi was taught behind closed doors. And written instructions were closely guarded. You may wonder why?  For an innocent on-looker, the simple movement of tai-chi (or other internal martial arts for that matter) is just like soft morning exercise.  Without a proper teacher (i.e. assuming the teacher knows what he is doing, which in reality is not always the case:):)), a novice simply doesn't know what is going on internally by just "observing", and even with good instructions on doing the movement. Why so secretive?

Legend had it that Yang, in pursue of a superior form of martial art, went to the village of tai-chi lineage master Chen Changxing 陈长兴 (now called Chen-style) wanting to become his student, but Chen refused to teach non-Chen students but was kind enough to allow Yang to observe, at a distant, thinking that it did no harm.  A popular fiction, Stealing martial art 偷拳, later even blew up the story and said Yang pretended to be dumb and worked as a servant in Chen's house in order to learn, or to steal, so to speak!  Anyway, disregarding the fiction, one day, for whatever reason, Yang innocently showed Chen what he had learned by just observing.  Chen was surprised that Yang knew a lot.  Chen immediately accepted Yang as his student.  As I can see it, Yang had re-engineered Chen's tai-chi through observing the outer form!

The story didn't end there.  After Yang went back home, he met his friend Wu YuXiang (武禹襄).  Wu wanted to learn tai-chi from Yang.  Wu was good-looking, intelligent and from a rich family, and as rich kid of those qualities goes, he was arrogant, and Yang gave him a few simple lessons and refused to let him observe his own training sessions, probably because Yang feared that Wu could re-engineered his art.  Wu was very angry, he brought a lot of money and went directly to the master of Yang.  Chen, because of old age, seeing the good potential in Wu or lured by financial reward, accepted Wu as one of his students.  Wu, flamboyant as ever, after learning for a short while under Chen, left his master and boasted to everyone that he had already learned everything from...Yang's master.  Wu had another edge.  It was said that Wu's brother paid huge money and obtain a famous written text, On Tai-chi (太極拳論) by master Wang ZongYu 王宗岳 (another prominent teacher in the area, the grandmaster of today's Zhao Fort-style 赵堡太极拳) . Wu later found the Wu-style tai-chi (武, not the same as another Wu 吳, which was developed from Yang 楊) which is popular up to this date, though less popular than Yang-style.

In conclusion, both Yang and Wu were great tai-chi re-engineering experts.  What is the relevancy to our practice of tai-chi today?  I shall touch on this subject again some other day.  Stay tuned.

Master Yang LuChan 楊露禪


  1. I think to some degree all martial arts get tweaked, re-engineered, and modified to various degrees.
    I have studied in Aikido, Karate, Tae Kwon Do and now looking at Tai Chi and Kung Fu and find that here in North America it is practically impossible to find some "verfiable true form" of any art that hasn't been changed from it's sources.

  2. Agree with you.

    And for internal martial arts (like tai-chi), the outer form is not as important as the internal concepts, feeling, and experience. Once you had it, you will almost wish to cry out "It is so simple", like an enlightened Zen master; and from then on, you are (or can be) pretty much to proceed with your journey on your own (not that you have become a master, but that you have "stepped inside the door" 入門, so to speak). In regard to Master Yang, he had stepped inside the door BEFORE Master Chen accepted him as his formal student.


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